Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Net Find - Planetary Map Generator

The Savage Duck found this the other day. He's aware of my star sector generator project and thought this might be of use. Indeed it might be!

It may also be of use to your gamers, especially with the upcoming Savage Worlds SciFi companion coming soon.

The web site is run by Torben Ægidius Mogensen, an associate professor in Copenhagen. For twenty years he's worked off and on with map projections. I did the same in a previous life though not as thoroughly as  Professor Mogensen.

To use the web based generator, simply open the generation console and change the values to your heart's content.

Once satisfied, generate your map. If you ever need to get back to it, simply remember your seed number and other values. It will generate the same map every time. You can see various areas of the map in more detail by adjusting the zoom, center latitude, and center longitude. You can also adjust the grid.

The generator produces BMP format images. You can easily convert them using a product like GIMP, for use in your favorite VTT, like MapTool.

You can also download the code and run it from the command line. See the project page for mote detail.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Space City Con Matt Mercury

Saturday and Space City Con started with the Matt Mercury panel and movie preview at 10 a.m. Bill Hughes and his wife Heidi are local Houston film makers who decided to make a family movie that hearkens back to and old style science fiction films of the 60s and 70s. Their catch phrase - The Future the Way It Used to Be - drives everything about their effort.

Matt Lavine is the executive producer and also plays Matt Mercury. His filmography includes playing a body on Star Trek Enterprise. He and Bill share the common vision of films that the entire family can enjoy.

The film is in post production now. Post production takes a year and involves all the after filming special effects and CGI.

Pre-production took a year and involves everything that the actors use, such as physical props, sets, and costumes. Bill and Heidi do a lot of that work themselves. You can see a lot of that work below in the movie poster. Since Bill Hughes, in the giant head below, makes most of these in his garage and driveway, they lead to interesting conversations with the neighbors.

The actual filming of Matt Mercury took five days in the studio at the Art Institute of Houston and two days on location. So that's seven days of acting sandwiched between two years of pre- and post production work.

Below is a 'Making Of' video featuring Bill Hughes.

Remember, support your local Rocket Rangers and your indie film makers.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Space City Con - Jim Butcher's Writing Class

Jim Butcher is probably best known for his long-running series The Dresden Files, which has been adapted into both a TV series and a RPG. He's an author that has a story similar to my own except for the part where he found a Big Boy Publisher to buy his books. His About Page at is well worth the read as his is live journal page where he dispenses writing advice.

At Space City Con, Jim was kind enough to give two separate two-hour classes for aspiring authors and fans. In the first class, titled "Blowing Things Up...", Jim described how to create a scene. The second class, "...And Making People Care About It," discuss sequels.

I do a thorough writeup on the sessions over on my writing blog, Hard Lessons. Here I'll hit the highlights. Note that the instructions here also pertain to gaming, particularly scene construction.


Storytelling is the act of manipulating people's emotions. The deeper the emotion, the more powerful the story. If you disagree, think of the movies you've enjoyed or the books you've loved. If you're honest, you'll realize the stories that affected you most were the ones you enjoyed the most.

Your characters, or players in the case of gaming, exist to be abused and denied until the climax of the story. Do not go easy on them. Their conflict is what drives the story forward. 

Language is the plumbing used to to get your reader or player from one conflict to the next. Use it well and the words will disappear as the reader or player will enter the story. Use it poorly and it becomes a stumbling block. Short words and clipped dialog work best.


Scenes are about conflict. They work on stimulus-response. Don't get these out of order. 

There are four outcomes to scenes and it is the answer to the character's goal.
  1. Yes - the character gets what they want. BORING
  2. Yes but - the character gets what they want but there are consequences.
  3. No - the character is denied and must set a new goal
  4. No and Furthermore - not only is the character denied but more misery is piled on.


A good villain thinks they are the hero. Darth Vader believed he was bringing order to the Galaxy. They get more Yeses out of scenes until the climax. A good writer or GM tortures the villains as much as the hero. 

Where to Start

Start the story or the game where the first meaningful action occurs that starts the story. As an example, the first Dresden Files book starts with Harry getting a call from Murphy and deciding to take the case. Adventures work much the same way. Start the adventures where the status quo is upset and the characters decided/need to do something. 

More Reading

The second class dealt with Sequels, the part of your story that follows a Scene. In gaming, the Sequel is up to your gamers. In a story, you get to sort it all out. You can find a more detailed version of this post as well as my notes from the second class over on Hard Lessons - The Writing Blog of R K Athey.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Space City Con - The Good, The Bad, and The Awesome

The Good

The second annual Space City Con was a tremendous success by anyone's standards. They even blew past all expectations of turnout. The lines for registration stretched the length of the central foyer and down the hall to the exhibit area. I was amazed after last years more lightly attended event.

The guests were bigger, the dealer room larger, and the cosplay was truly amazing. Of special note were the 501st Legion - Vader's Fist. They were there enmass and really livened up the con and posed regularly for pics. I had one guy to this for me.

The Klingons were in rare form. Two of the better dressed were funny, making fun of a Jedi with a hair placement fixation. The roamed around in good spirits freely posing and cracking wise with anyone.

The fan clubs were out in full force including Dr. Who, Firefly, Ghostbusters, Legend of the Seekers, and various forms of Star Trek and Star Wars. Some of there props were amazing including a TARDIS and Dalek.

Several local film companies were also present to advertise movies like Matt Mercury - Rocket Ranger and More Than Human. Both production companies turned out in full force with previews of their work. Look for a soon-to-be-published extended post on Matt Mercury.

Three different companies of Live Action Role Players (LARP) were in house to show off their wares. One group held a continual battle at the Hilton across the street while Sovereign Scrolls held night time adventures inside the Marriott host hotel. LARPs are of particular interest to my 10 year old son. For the record, LARP really isn't my thing but my son loves it.

Sovereign Scrolls made him a Paladin but he's not really the Paladin type. He spent his games hanging back waiting for one of the adults players to turn their back, at which time he would run up and slice them from the neck down to their legs. We were there until after midnight.

The other eternity was time spent in the dealers room. It was huge with an astounding variety of vendors.

The Bad

The size brought some headaches and there was a bit of chaos on Friday as the Con's crew struggled to get the things going. They either ran out of programs or the printer delivered them late. I missed one of my must-see  events, the Hickman's Brown Bag Lunch.

Granted, most of this was my fault with an assist from Google Maps. Google Maps beta gave us the wrong directions on our printed copy. We punted to Onstar but got there late. Things smoothed out after the first few hours as staff become more familiar with the flow and contents of the con.

The Awesome

Jim Butcher is a prolific writer, RPGer, and video gamer. His first novel, The Dresden Files, was written to prove his professor wrong. He was kind enough to run two writing classes during Space City Con. The first class titled "Blowing Things Up..." complimented the second titled "...And Making People Care About It."

Mr. Butcher is highly entertaining, honest about his personality and abilities, and willing to help others down their path toward authordom.  His class was very informative and entertaining. I'll have a series of posts with the class content and how it applies to both writing and gaming coming over the next few weeks. I took sixteen pages of notes. You can find Jim online at and

I'll have a few posts about Mr. Butcher's class in upcoming posts here and elsewhere.

In Summary

Space City Con did an outstanding job despite a much larger crowd than expected. It is a family event that even my non-geek family enjoyed. I would say this will be an annual event for us but it looks like Space City Con is gearing up for a winter festival as well!